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Petaluma catering company’s secrets to the perfect pot pie

The history of the humble pot pie stretches back to the Neolithic Age. The Greeks are believed to have enjoyed a meat pie in 9500 B.C. that was baked in an open pastry shell.

That dish eventually caught on with the Romans, spread across Medieval Europe during the Crusades and then enjoyed a revival in the 16th century among the English gentry.

Soon after, the savory pie obsession spread to the New World, especially in the chilly reaches of New England. Homesteaders took it westward in their wagons.

By 1951, the pot pie had been reinvented again by C.A. Swanson & Co., which created a frozen chicken pot pie that many baby boomers recall fondly along with the company’s frozen meal in a tray, known as TV dinners.

Now, nearly 70 years later, Chris and Ciara Greenwald of Bay Laurel Culinary, who own a catering company in Petaluma, are updating the frozen chicken pot pie with a California twist, sourcing only the best ingredients for the crust and filling to create a hearty, nourishing chicken pot pie that can freeze and bake well.

“We have been trying to develop a double-crust pot pie for almost a year,” said Ciara, a pastry chef who hails from Dublin County in Ireland. “We wanted to make sure when you took the pie out of the oven and rested it for five minutes, it would come out of the tin easily.”

During their testing, the couple sent pies home with friends and then sought their feedback. There were many questions to answer: How thick should the dough be? How much gravy should there be? And will it hold together without getting soggy?

“We wanted to make it foolproof for people, because you’re baking your own pie, and we wanted to make sure it would work in different ovens,” Ciara said. “We wanted people to take the pie out and plate it themselves and have it look beautiful. We just want the perfect chicken pot pie.”

Now that the testing is over, the growing ranks of Bay Laurel Culinary customers can pick up, bake and enjoy the savory pies all winter, as long as they get their orders in early.

“We have a waiting list right now,” Ciara said. “One week a month we will spend making them and freezing them all.”

The pies are labor intensive, like so many delicious things are.

“It’s so many steps,” Chris said. “You make the stock, you make the filling and cool it and the dough is made and it’s cooled overnight.”

As the savory cook, Chris is in charge of the filling, which is chockablock with carrots, celery and peas along with pasture-raised heirloom chicken from Cooks Venture in Arkansas.

“They’re antibiotic-free,” Chris said. “We start our stock with cold water and chicken and vegetables. Then we put all the bones back, and that becomes our stock base.”

The most labor-intensive part, Chris said, is chopping the vegetables and picking the chicken. Then he makes a roux and adds the chicken stock back in to create a rich white gravy.

Meanwhile, Ciara works on the crust, which reminds her of the steak and kidney pies she grew up with that were made with sturdy short-crust doughs. Her main piece of advice? Don’t overthink it.

“Pastry dough is one of those things where people overcomplicate it,” she said. “If you don’t overthink it, the most important thing is the ingredients.”

Bay Laurel Culinary uses the organic baker’s craft flour from Keith Giusto’s in Petaluma, Clover butter, salt and water.

After that, the key is to keep everything “religiously” cold to the touch, at every step of the pie.

“I naturally have really cold hands, and that helps,” Ciara said. “I chill the stainless steel bowl ahead of time. I chill the flour in the bowl and I chill the butter.”

Beyond that, she just brings the dough together so it holds, lets it rest overnight, which improves it by letting the gluten relax, then rolls it out as gently and quickly as possible, forming the pie tops and pressing the bottoms into the tins.

Even then, it’s still crucial to keep everything fully cold. The tins go back in the fridge, where the filling is cooling, and then everything is brought out again, scooped into the pie and sealed.

“We make sure the filling is the same temperature as the dough,” she said. “Otherwise it will start to melt that butter, even if it’s at room temperature.”

Once the pies are done, they all go into the freezer, for enjoyment as part of weekly family meals or on their own.

Although you can make the pot pies in a regular pie pan, the couple prefers to use smaller, 5-inch pie tins they order from Norpro which serve one to two people and make four to five pies instead of one.

“The first time we made them, I made mini ones and baked off two and froze three,” Ciara said. “We are not going to eat an entire pie, so I like to make them small.”

The couple likes to serve a little salad on the side, made of arugula, spinach, butter lettuce or chicories, with a nice glass of wine.

“It’s the epitome of comfort food,” said Chris, who used to visit the Linn’s Fruit Barn in Cambria in the 1970s and early ’80s while visiting his grandparent in Cayucos.

“It was a u-pick berry farm, and then they started doing chicken pot pies,” he said. “My family has Midwestern roots, and they are just one of those things that are quintessentially American.”

In addition to the prix fixe family meal, which includes a little bite to start, an entree, some vegetables, a salad and dessert, Bay Laurel Culinary also offers an à la carte menu of breakfast and lunch items, freezer-friendly items, entrees and desserts.

Menus are sent out on Sundays through Instagram (@baylaurelchef) and customers pick up from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.

The catering company is also offering gift cards for the first time this holiday season as well as some culinary gifts, including a trio of their most popular shortbread cookies.

Bay Laurel Culinary is located on the west side of Highway 101, at 1370 Industrial Ave. in the Woodside Business Park. Menu and ordering information can be found on Instagram @baylaurelchef

If you would like to use 5-inch pie tins to serve two people each, Ciara suggests the Norpro Nonstick Mini Pie Pans ($17 on Amazon).

Bay Laurel Culinary Chicken Pot Pie

Makes 1 9-inch deep-dish pie or 4 - 5 miniature pies

For pie dough:

9 ounces unsalted butter, refrigerator cold

10½ ounces all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoon kosher salt

8-10 tablespoons ice cold water

For filling:

1 whole chicken (3 to 3 ½ pounds)

1 cup carrot, medium dice

1 cup celery, medium dice

4 ounces (8 tablespoons) butter

4 ounces (¾ cup) all-purpose flour

40 ounces (5 cups) chicken stock

1 fresh bay leaf

1 clove garlic (minced into paste)

2 teaspoons fresh thyme, roughly minced

4 tablespoons water

½ cup frozen peas

Salt and white pepper to taste

For pie dough:

Mix flour and salt together in a bowl. Grate or thinly slice the butter. Add butter to the flour mixture bowl (without mixing ) and place in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove flour mixture from the refrigerator and work the butter into the flour gently, using your fingertips, without overmixing. (You will barely need to do more than toss the butter in the flour if you grated it.)

Make a well in center of the dry ingredients and add 8 tablespoons ice cold water to start. Mix dry ingredients into water using a fork until the dough starts to come together. Add more water by the tablespoon as needed, so that the dough starts to form one clump without there being a lot of dry crumbs on the bottom of the bowl. At that point, use your hand to gently finish bringing the dough together. Wrap in parchment paper and press into a disk. Refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.

When ready to assemble pie, divide dough into two-third and one-third portions. Roll out dough to 1/8-inch thick and place the two-thirds piece for the bottom crust in the pan. Fill with cold filling. Brush rim of dough with a little water and place remaining rolled out one-third of dough on top. Press gently to seal and crimp as desired. If baking pie immediately, brush top with egg wash and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 45 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.

Alternatively, freeze unbaked pie for up to 3 months. When ready to bake, bake straight from the freezer (brush top with egg wash) and increase cooking time to approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes.

For filling:

Cover chicken with stock or water. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 1 hour or until meat is just pulling from legs. Remove chicken, cool and shred into large pieces with no tendons, ligaments, skin or bones (meat must be pristine in condition). Once chicken is picked clean, return skin and bones to the boiling liquid along with everything else to make a nice chicken stock.

Melt butter in 4-quart saucepan and whisk in flour. Cook evenly for 2 to 3 minutes. Add stock and whisk until smooth (no lumps), then add carrot and celery. Continue stirring until gravy thickens. Once the gravy is simmering, add garlic and bay leaf. Set timer for 15 minutes and stir often. When finished, cool gravy and add water while stirring. Once cool but not cold, add frozen peas, thyme and shredded chicken. Add salt and pepper generously, put in a bowl, wrap and place in fridge until completely chilled and gelatinous. Keep cold until ready to fill the pie.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56

Diane Peterson

Features, The Press Democrat

I’m interested in the home kitchen, from sheet-pan suppers to the latest food trends. Food encompasses the world, its many cultures, languages and history. It is both essential and sensual. I also have my fingers on the pulse of classical music in Sonoma County, from student mariachi bands to jazz crossover and symphonic sounds. It’s all a rich gumbo, redolent of the many cultures that make up our country and the world.

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